DECATUR — As a former U.S. Postal Service postmaster, Mike Cooke has seen plenty of strange things that people have tried to mail.
Among the weirdest?
Roosters, he said.
"It's kind of funny. You have them in the office for a long while, and people will come to pick them up, but the rooster will just be crowing in the office," said Cooke, a corporate communications specialist for the Postal Service. "It sounds like you're working on a farm."
Cooke said that with the busy holiday shipping season approaching, it's important for all people who plan to send packages through the Postal Service to make sure they understand all packaging and shipping guidelines before doing so.
Cooke said air bags, ammunition, explosives and gasoline are prohibited items and will not be shipped either domestically or internationally.
Certain items, like lithium batteries or matches, can be shipped if the sender adheres to special rules — such as only sending small, consumer lithium cells or only sending safety matches through ground transport.
Even some animals, like roosters, reptiles and baby chickens, can be shipped through the Postal Service if they are in special, breathable packaging, Cooke said.
"Just nothing as big as a dog or cat," he said.
The Postal Service, an independent agency, is trying to stay financially afloat as it seeks to invest billions in new delivery trucks to get packages more nimbly to American homes. It reported a financial loss earlier this month for the 11th straight year, citing declining mail volume and costs of its pension and health care obligations even as it predicted another strong holiday season of package deliveries.
Hours also were added to include early morning and evening package deliveries and was expanding service on Sundays. More recently, it began a pilot program this holiday season to provide cheap next-day service with packages delivered Sundays to people's homes.
"The Postal Service continues to win e-commerce customers, grow our package delivery business and increase market share," Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said, attributing its strength in part to affordable pricing compared to rivals UPS and FedEx. "No other shipper delivers as many e-commerce packages to the home."
Bolstered by e-commerce growth and its Sunday operations, the Postal Service is projected to reach new highs this year in holiday package delivery, with an estimated 850 million U.S. parcels delivered from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, according to figures compiled by industry tracker ShipMatrix Inc. for the Associated Press.
That 13 percent increase from 2016 would exceed the single-digit percentage growth for UPS and FedEx, putting the post office on track to capture 45.6 percent market share in peak holiday deliveries, ShipMatrix said.
If a customer is confused or concerned about whether their package will ship, Cooke suggests either reading the list of shipping restrictions on the Postal Service's website or speaking to a customer service representative at the post office or a shipping store.
"When a package doesn't meet the guidelines, that doesn't mean that we won't accept it," he said. "They may have to repackage it, or put it in the right kind of container. There are some things that we don't allow, but there are also many things we will if it's packaged differently."
Cooke also advises against trying to sneak prohibited items through the Postal Service or withholding certain information about a package when attempting to ship it. Doing so could endanger airplane pilots, mail carriers or other postal service employees, he said.
"We're not trying to be mean with these regulations, but it's really for the protection of our employees and the protection of things that everyone else is sending," Cooke explained.